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Focus on crime, economy in City Council District 1

Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of stories the Journal will publish on the contested races for the Albuquerque City Council.

Ken Sanchez

Three candidates challenging City Councilor Ken Sanchez have diverse ideas and backgrounds, but share the opinion that Albuquerque government needs new blood and fresh ideas.

Sanchez, who ran unopposed for the District 1 seat in 2013, emphasizes his two decades of government experience, including 12 years on the City Council and eight years as a Bernalillo County commissioner.

The West Side District 1 lies south of Montaño NW and north of Central.

Sanchez, a Democrat who operates an accounting firm and is president of Ken Sanchez & Associates Realty, has represented the district since 2005. His challengers in the Oct. 3 election are:

Javier Benavidez

• Javier Benavidez, a self-described progressive Democrat who is co-director of the SouthWest Organizing Project, an organization concerned with social and environmental justice. He previously worked as a policy analyst for the City Council.

• Sandra Mills, an independent who grew up in Albuquerque and retired from IBM Corp. Mills volunteers with AARP as a tax aide and cites her father, Louis Ulibarri, as her biggest influence.

• Johnny F. Luevano Jr., an independent who now works for Presbyterian Health Plan. Luevano served in the Marines and retired with the rank of captain.

Johnny F. Luevano Jr.

Sanchez points to a variety of infrastructure projects he helped steer to completion, including the new Patrick J. Baca Library, Fire Station No. 7 and the West Side Aquatic Center. His campaign slogan is: “A name you know; a name you trust.”

His opponents describe a city with a worsening economy and increasing crime, and say the city needs change.

“I guess what got me off the couch is, I think they have failed, not minimally, but miserably, on the crime issue,” Luevano said of Sanchez and other city leaders.

Sandra Mills

Luevano, 44, said he has spoken with many people in District 1 who have been personally touched by crime, which Luevano calls the key issue in the race.

“It is mind-boggling the amount of effort they are putting toward these capital projects while the community is literally being ravaged by crime,” he said.

Sanchez responded that his chief asset is his lifelong commitment to District 1, where he runs the family business started 53 years ago by his father.

“I think I’ve got a well-established record, and my relationships and longevity in this community speak for itself,” Sanchez said.

Benavidez and Mills both identified the economy as a major problem facing District 1 residents.

“Economic problems are a root cause of crime and addiction,” said Benavidez, who favors raising the city’s minimum wage to $15 an hour with an exemption for small businesses.

He also favors “dismantling predatory lending” by lobbying the state to reduce maximum interest rates and using the city’s zoning laws to restrict storefront lenders.

Benavidez is facing an ethics complaint alleging that he did not collect the required number of $5 donations, which allowed him to qualify for about $38,131 in public campaign financing. The city’s Board of Ethics will meet in closed session Monday to consider the allegations.

Mills said she provides free tax preparation for middle-income families who are struggling in low-paying jobs.

“I’m seeing what’s happening to them and their income is shrinking,” Mills said. “These are middle-income folks and I don’t like what I see. Let’s train our people for better jobs, and let’s bring in jobs.”

The city can play a bigger role in helping train people for good and do more to recruit employers to the city, she said.

All three challengers criticized Sanchez’s support for the Albuquerque Rapid Transit project.

Sanchez said the construction work for ART affected his own business, but the project brought more than $30 million in infrastructure investment to District 1, including water and sewer improvements.

“It was not just about the buses, but it was all the infrastructure we were getting on the West Side,” Sanchez said of ART. “For me to turn my back on over $30 million for improvements west of the river would have been wrong.”

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